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Medically Reviewed by:

Dr Danae Maragouthakis

Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, John F Kennedy, Napoleon, Henry VIII can all be counted as historical figures, but they had something else in common too…they were carriers of STIs…

Yes, they were at the core of some of the most documented events from the past few hundred years--but, like you and me, they’re only human!

Join us as we count down three historical figures who carried sexually transmitted diseases, hopefully making you realise that even those who were part of history aren’t immune from the symptoms of an STI.

1. John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy: receiver of the Purple Heart, initiator of the first moon landing, and proposer of the Civil Rights Act. Here was a man who achieved a lot in his 42 years and inspired hope and change across America. His assassination in 1963 shook the world and is often cited as one of the most pivotal events of the 20th century. Since his untimely death, there have been a whole library's worth of conspiracy theories written about that fateful day in Dallas, but there’s also been heaps of books written around his personal life too. As well as being an inspiration to millions, President Kennedy was also a prolific philanderer...

Amongst his mistresses were actresses Audrey Hepburn, Gene Tierney, and perhaps most famously, Marylin Monroe. Considering his long line of extra marital affairs, perhaps it’s not overly shocking that JFK was allegedly the carrier of at least one sexually transmitted disease.

In fact, his medical records show that John first contracted an STI as a teenager. For most of his life, John suffered from ill-health. This included Addison’s disease and  chronic back pain and prostate inflammation, the latter of which was said to have been caused by an untreated STI, too.

2. Al Capone

Historical figures that suffered from syphilis include: King Henry VIII, Adolf Hitler, Vladimer Lenin and Oscar Wilde, to name a few. It's important to note that these are just rumours However, one person whose case of syphilis is indisputable, is the notorious gangster Al Capone.

Al Capone (Or Enemy No1 as he was affectionately known) gained notoriety as the head of the Chicago Outfit, an organised crime cartel who demonstrated a reign of violence and bloodshed during America’s Prohibition years (mainly the 1920s).

Mr Capone’s criminal underworld regime came to an end in 1931 when he was convicted of tax evasion (of all things!) and imprisoned for 11 years. On release from Alcatraz prison in 1939, his syphilis had not only ravaged his body, but also his mind.

So how did syphilis ultimately derail the once formidable and menacing Al Capone? Initially, syphilis may start with a sore on the mouth or the nether regions. If not treated, it can lead to tumors, blindness and much worse. In Al’s case, it led to an attack on his nervous system, eventually causing dementia.

In 1946, Al’s people called in his physician in to conduct a psychiatric evaluation. The conclusion was that Capone had the cognitive functioning of a 12 year old. That’s how destructive this disease was for the once mighty and much-feared Enemy No.1. He died a year later from heart failure, which can be traced back to the aggression of his syphilis.

Pretty gruesome, we know. Can syphilis be treated? Yes. Today it can be treated by taking penicillin.

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3. Tallulah Bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead may not be historical in the sense of being part of a world changing event such as John F Kennedy. Likewise, she may not have been one of the most notorious gangsters of the early 20th century. She was, though, born into Southern aristocracy, and was part of the golden age of Hollywood, which unquestionably shaped our modern day arts and culture. So, who was Tallulah Bankhead? Tallulah started acting when she was just 16. Her elegance, glamour and captivating presence helped skyrocket her to superstardom. She went on to win awards aplenty in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Lifeboat, as well as appearances in the hugely popular Batman series of the 1960s.

As her stardom rose, so did Tallulah’s taste for the party lifestyle. She was known for her love of vices, which included drugs, alcohol, cigarettes (she smoked 12 per day!), and a fair amount of unprotected sex (with men and women). Unfortunately, Tallulah contracted gonorrhoea.

Gonorrhoea symptoms include a discharge and pain when peeing. By the time Tallulah was diagnosed the infection was so far advanced she was forced to undergo a hysterectomy. This didn’t finish Tallulah off, however, and she went on to achieve further successes both in the silver screen and on Broadway.

So there we have it. STI’s are not biased. They can attack film stars, mobsters and even presidents. The good news is that it’s never been easier to keep your sexual health in check. At Yoxly, we offer a convenient, secure and speedy service whereby our STI kits are delivered straight to your door. Finally, an STI home testing kit! No queuing, no shame, no fuss.

Contact us today to find out more!


Drew Lovell has created content for various tech and entertainment companies, including Disney Online. His latest role was for a leading learning tech company, which saw him as the head of YouTube, chief blogger and social media expert. Drew has also written comedy for BBC Radio Four, released x2 podcast series, and x3 novels.


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Yoxly's Awesome Contributors (YACs) are a diverse group of individuals who are passionate about public health, and committed to furthering our mission. Yoxly provides a platform where a variety of sexual health topics (some more awkward than others!) can be explored, in an informative and non-judgmental way. If you'd like to become one of Yoxly's Awesome Contributors, contact us!